You've tried it. We all have; the endless e-mail dialogue with maybe-not-our-best-colleague where we constantly battle to find arguments to prove the other part wrong

And the other part literally sitting in the office on the other side of the hallway, less than 10 meters away from you

It all started one morning with an email from that colleague with a message that annoyed the living daylights out of you...

Let's stop here. It's worth taking a look at why this email annoyed you so much. And to do this, let's examine how we understand messages in various levels of communication 

When we're talking to people face to face, we're using our full bandwidth to comprehend what the other person is saying; we hear the words, how the words are spoken and we see the other person's gestures / body language while communicating 

In other words, using the full communication bandwidth gives us a pretty good idea of the intentions of the other person and how the uttered words should be perceived - you know if the person is joking with you, is dead serious or saying something without really meaning it

What happens when you take away the body language, i.e. when you’re on the phone with somebody? You still have quite some bandwidth left as you can get a good idea of the meaning of the words by listening to the tone of voice

But it goes all wrong when you read an e-mail… granted, you can use emotional icons to try to explain how your words should be understood, but fact is that we have a tendency to read and understand written words in a context of a) how we feel that particular moment we read the mail, b) our feelings towards the sender as well as c) the sender’s position of power compared to you in the organization 

Which is why things can go wrong - if you think your boss is not happy with you, you'll read all his mails in a manner that will reinforce you in that thinking; a short mail 'where are you' can be understood as he is trying to monitor you while he wanted to know because he wanted to have a social lunch with you...

My point?

Get off your chair and go see people whenever you can - it shortens the time you spend mailing back and forth, it reduces misunderstandings, you exercise and you might even make friends with your colleagues

If you cannot go see them (they're in another office or country), give them - and yourself - the benefit of the doubt when reading and understanding their mails - and if you still feel something is wrong, call them

It's worth the extra effort. Always

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